Michele Regenold, Writing for Kids from the Boondocks

A blog about writing for children and the quest for publication.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Packet 2 response

I'm not a particularly nervous person. I don't get nervous about speaking in public until 10 or 15 minutes before doing it. I don't get nervous about reading my advisor's response to a packet until I'm ripping open the envelope (or opening the email attachments). This time was no exception. While my advisor was disappointed that I hadn't sent as much as she'd asked for (because that novel outline took so darn long), she "loved" what I did send her. "Keep going," she said.

Roger, wilco.

This advisor is probably the most teacher-ish one I've had. In her letter to me this time, she gave me a sort of mini lecture about the importance of free time to a fiction writer. I think she's worried that I have too many oars in the water. She suggested that as long as I have to support myself that I consider work that leaves my mind free to subconsciously roam.

Most of my job is already like that. I'm not personally invested in it, so I don't take it home with me, literally or figuratively. But I mentioned Go! magazine to her and working on finding grants to support it. That is work I take home with me. But I like working on Go! and it's also writing for teens, so I don't really see a problem. It makes for some hectic weeks now and then, but I think taking Wednesdays off will help balance it all out. Plus, I have a lot of energy and drive. And it's fun to have more than one ball in the air.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bloody, sweaty packet 2

My 4th semester advisor, Ellen Howard, said in her letter about my first packet that she wanted me to work harder than I ever had before. She expected me to sweat blood over it, smiling the whole time as I see my novel taking shape after developing an outline. The packet I put in the mail to her on Friday had blood and sweat stains all over it.

The sheer quantity of pages in this packet was not amazing. The novel outline came out to 6 pages, single-spaced, and I submitted 5 revised chapters (about 33 pages). She'd asked me to revise the first 4 and 2 or 3 more, but 5 was all I could hack. By the time I finished the outline, I only had a week left to do revisions. Cutting was quick and easy, but adding new scenes was more time consuming.

Starting Oct. 1, however, I'm reducing my hours at work from 40 to 32. I'll have one whole extra day--Wednesday--every week to keep plugging away on my novel. Why Wednesday instead of Friday or Monday? A couple of reasons:
  1. It would be too easy for me to fritter away a day in a long weekend because it wouldn't feel like a work day.
  2. My semi-retired husband, who works at home as an outdoor writer (bird hunting articles), goes to shoot skeet (clay targets) on Wednesday mornings, so he will be out of my way, and we won't have to negotiate computer use (we share one).
So I plan to make more dramatic progress soon. My speed should pick up now that I have a plan to follow too. I'd like to complete a good draft of this novel by the end of November--sooner if possible.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Novel outlining

I am not an outliner. This may stem from a prolonged and rather painful unit on proper outlining in 5th grade. On the other hand, it may also stem from my inherent laziness. Because outlining is a lot of work, as I have recently discovered.

Last night I completed an outline of my YA mystery novel. I'm sure I would not have stuck to it without my advisor, Ellen Howard, cracking the whip over my head. She was probably horrified at the state of my novel, which I sent her--all 160-odd messy pages--in my 1st packet last month. But that's to be expected, the messiness I mean, when you're telling yourself the story as you go, plus working with a variety of advisors.

But now I have this lovely (12 pages long hand, single-spaced) outline to keep me on track, and I'm very excited about finishing a solid draft of this novel this semester. And I'll get to keep much of what I've already written. I don't consider any of it wasted because I learned more about the characters and the story through the process.

To help me figure out the shape of this story, I used James Frey's 5-act structure in How to Write a Damn Good Mystery. I highly recommend this book if you're trying to write a mystery. I first learned from him some important ideas about getting started with a detective novel. For example, start with your villain. The villain's reasons for committing the crime and his/her back story drive the plot, but much of this is off stage.

So, although Ellen didn't request it, I wrote an outline of what my bad guy was doing first. It took me 2 or 3 days to get this stuff figured out. This helped me determine what my detective was reacting to once I got to my main outline, which took me another 11 or 12 days. Occasionally the progress was swift. Other times, like the night before last, not so much. I was mentally trying out several different actions in a crucial scene--when the detective gets caught by the villain just as she discovers proof of his villainy. It took me an hour to write one paragraph about that scene. (By then I should have expended about 500 calories, if there were any justice in the world.)